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More offices at Bay Meadows

Retail, parking weigh heavily for San Mateo officials, residents with expansion near transit

By Anna Schuessler Daily Journal staff Oct 1, 2018

In approving a proposal to nearly double the square footage of two previously-approved office buildings at Bay Meadows, San Mateo city officials weighed last week whether enough commercial areas and parking would be included among the mix of retail, office and residential space at the massive, mixed-use development.

With two of the five office buildings expected to line the Caltrain tracks completed, residents and new workers have already moved into the transit-oriented redevelopment of the former horse race track, which is home to 18 acres of parks and open space, tech companies like SurveyMonkey and Guidewire Software and retail tenants like Blue Bottle Coffee, Tin Pot Creamery and Fieldwork Brewing Company.

The developer’s plan to expand Station 1 and Station 5 — two office buildings previously approved in 2008 that bookend the line of five planned between South Delaware Street and the Caltrain tracks — is aimed at meeting demand for office space near San Mateo’s Hillsdale Caltrain station, a major transit hub.

Increasing Station 1 from some 92,000 square feet to about 184,000 square feet and expanding Station 5 from roughly 98,000 square feet to more than 183,000 square feet will increase the total square footage of the five buildings by some 177,000. The modifications also include the elimination of the 5,794 square feet of ground-floor retail approved for Station 1 and a reduction of the 4,098 square feet of ground-floor retail previously approved for Station 5 to 2,378.

Though residents of or nearby Bay Meadows raised concerns about the reduction of commercial space and the impact an influx of workers would have on parking and traffic near the site, planning commissioners largely agreed the expansion plan — which would result in a total of 367,488 square feet of office space between the two buildings — made sense for the transit-oriented development. Vice Chair Mike Etheridge and Commissioner John Ebneter were absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Ellen Mallory commended the synergy between the residential, office and retail uses at the site, and said hearing the development’s parking structures are not at capacity and that the Hillsdale Caltrain station is well-used eased her concerns about traffic and parking.

“I think that for me, I look at development as ‘where does it make sense?’ And developing Bay Meadows makes sense,” she said, according to a video of the meeting.

As resident and employee at Bay Meadows, Claire Lua advocated for retaining the commercial space originally planned for the office buildings, noting she has found there are not enough retail and restaurant options nearby and she still needs to drive to access goods and services.

Concerned the increase in office space included in the plans would bring even more workers and increase demand for shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, Lua, also president of the Meadow Walk Homeowners Association, wondered where those workers and residents will go without more commercial options.

“With the increase in employees brought about by more office space, there will be a greater need from these workers for restaurants and amenities,” she said. “Removing commercial space and only adding office space defeats one big part of the retail residential and office equation.”

With a yoga studio to join LIFT Exercise Studio on the ground-floor of Station 4 and Roam Artisan Burgers to open Oct. 1, Janice Thacher, partner at the developer Wilson Meany, said the developer is working to ensure new retail operators are being brought online in a way that makes sense for the community and allows retailers to succeed. Because the office and residential buildings are not yet fully leased and construction is ongoing at the railroad crossing grade separations at 25th, 28th and 31st avenues, Thacher said finding high-quality retailers that fit within the growing mix has taken longer than anticipated, and that concentrating retailers in the middle three office buildings was deemed to be most effective.

“It’s been slower growing than we hoped and we don’t feel that bringing on additional retail space now in a big way is going to be easy to lease given the dynamics,” she said.

Dennis Murphy, president of the San Mateo/Glendale Village Neighborhood Association, cited concerns about whether enough parking would be included at the development once it is fully leased. Also accompanying the changes are the replacement of a six-story, 718-space parking garage planned for the Station 1 building with a mix of below- and at-grade parking providing 444 spaces. A 1-acre lot where a Caltrain parking structure with some 500 spaces was previously planned for the Station 5 block is no longer in the works, giving the developer space to expand the building and the attached parking structure to hold 749 spaces.

“We’re doubling the size of this project and yet we’re not doubling the parking,” he said.

Though Chair Dianne Whitaker acknowledged a study showing parking at nearby structures being underutilized, she encouraged the developer to consider a shared parking arrangement allowing visitors to park in the office building garages on the weekends. Though she acknowledged the office tenants the developer has worked with typically want to manage the parking in their buildings, Thacher said the concept would be explored and could fit better for Station 1 on the northern end of the site.

In other business, commissioners also recommended a plan to relocate Fire Station 25 to undeveloped parkland adjacent to Borel Middle School to the City Council. Though the proposal has been met with community concern about noise and traffic, the project to move the current 2,700-square-foot, single-story station at the corner of Alameda de las Pulgas and Barneson Avenue less than two blocks away to the corner of Borel Avenue and Shafter Street is one among several projects proposed in recent years to improve the city’s emergency response facilities. The City Council is slated to review the plan Nov. 5.
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